Tom Stovall: Soldier, Prisoner of War, Hero, Legend
To say that it is an honor for us to serve Tom Stovall, a decorated centenarian veteran, is an understatement. Tom is one of our #InspiredResidents at Inspired Living at Kenner. He will be valiantly reaching 100 years old on April 16th next year, but this is only one of his many amazing life achievements. Tom has led an extraordinary life and star-studded military career. In accompaniment to Veterans Day this year, we’d like to share his incredible story!
Tom had two years of college under his belt before applying for the Air Force. When his draft number was called, he was sent to the horse cavalry, and fondly remembers saying, “Those horses were so smart, you wouldn’t believe it.” Tom’s next grand adventure came when he went into pilot training. He quickly jumped the ranks and became a navigator and instructor for the Army. However, one unlikely event came during his career as a navigator. During one of his flights, he was tasked to land on a very short and narrow runway. He described it being about 12 inches, holding his hands up to indicate the amount of wiggle room he had. He flew in and landed on the runway only to end up crashing into a tractor. The whole plane burst into flames, injuring Tom leaving him to be hospital ridden for two months. This tenacious man didn’t let this incident hold him back though. After recuperating from his accident, he quickly re-entered training to become a bombardier and began flying a B26.
As a bombardier, he flew around 72 total missions. On his 72nd mission, Tom was asked to arrive in Paris to replace a sick officer. His plane had just bombed a prison a block away from the Eiffel Tower, and shortly after was shot down in the water. He and the pilot were the only two survivors from the crash, suffering serious burns to their faces and hands. As if this wasn’t devastating enough, Tom was captured and became a prisoner of war in Poland. While a prisoner of war in Poland, he encountered a German officer whom he said, “Spoke better English than I did,” and found that the officer had a daughter who lived in New York City. Through this tribulation, he was again moved to a Hitler youth camp after the Russians invaded Poland. His saving grace came when the Allies moved into France, which ultimately led to his rescue. He emerged only weighing 98 pounds and had lived through more during his time in the armed services than most people do in an entire lifetime.
From being hospitalized for two months, having severe burns, and being captured, this incredible man once again rose like a phoenix from the ashes. He considers himself incredibly lucky, although it seems more accurate to say that it was the United States that was lucky to have Tom, a brave man, serving our great country. Upon his arrival home, Tom received many awards for his outstanding service. Rightfully so, he became the head of the National Guard, and ended up stationed in Japan through the Korean War but, never flew because of the distance to North Korea.
Tom’s military adventures have captivated us all! From being in the Army to the Air Force becoming a navigator and a bombardier; a prisoner of war and ultimately ending up being the Head of the National Guard, he is the true definition of a war hero. In accompaniment to his awe-inspired stories, he has six books – three inches thick – stuffed with these cherished memories and accomplishments.